Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

Breakfast with Belinda Sanders, 747 ABC Southern Queensland, Toowoomba

12 July 2017

9:40AM

Subject: nbn rollout

E & OE

Journalist:
Minister for Communications and Arts, Senator Mitch Fifield in the studio this morning. Good morning, how are you?

Fifield:
Very well, Belinda. Good to be with you.

Journalist:
And first of all, why the visit to Toowoomba? Is it all about the NBN?

Fifield:
It's all about the NBN. We have a really good news story. We've reached the halfway mark, nationwide, for the rollout of the NBN. 5.7 million people can now access it. But the really good news for rural and regional Australia is because we've front end loaded those parts of Australia, two-thirds of the NBN is completed there. And in the area of Groom which I'm visiting at the invitation of John McVeigh, 93% of the electorate is complete. And it will all be done and dusted in this area by early next year. So, we recognised that regional Australia, historically, had been at a disadvantage when it comes to connectivity which is why we put a big emphasis up front.

Journalist:
Now, are there lessons that you are already considering or aware of, that you think can be taken from the Toowoomba experience and changed, perhaps, when the NBN is rolled out in other parts of the country, and what are they?

Fifield:
Well, there are lessons to be learnt for a project of this magnitude. We need to recognise that we're essentially trying to do in the space of 6 or 8 years, what it took the PMG, Telecom, and Telstra 100 or so. And that is to roll out a network for the whole nation. One of the important lessons is that retail service providers are the first point of contact for consumers. So, that might be Telstra, it might be Optus, it might be TPG. They're the first point of contact because they're the ones who have the relationship with the NBN network. It's really pretty much the same as the pre-NBN network where people don't deal directly with Telstra wholesale, they deal with their retailers.

Journalist:
I have to say, when I hear about the NBN locally, one of the things that come up as an annoyance is the installation process and the fact that they don't know who to talk to because often the NBN and the provider is at odds. You're not home when things are installed. Things actually happen without you watching it. Are there lessons in terms of who's in charge of what? Because it's the consumer that's left in the middle of that sandwich because they keep passing the buck to each other.

Fifield:
And NBN is working closely with the retail service providers to make that more seamless. And, absolutely you can understand the frustration when someone has an experience that isn't all that it should be. NBN tell us that things go right, first time, on about nine out of ten occasions. But if you're that one in ten for whom things aren't all that they should be, you're not too fussed about the stats, all you know is that it's not working for you and that you want it fixed. And that's fair enough. And NBN, and the retailers are getting better at managing that relationship.

Journalist:
And sometimes it seems to take a long time to fix too.

Fifield:
Well, any delay is frustrating for people. But, I think because of the experiences in early rollout areas such as Toowoomba, other parts of Australia will have a more seamless experience. But, the good news for this area is that pretty much everyone can access the NBN now.

Journalist:
And what sort of speed should that access provide? What are you sort of recording?

Fifield:
Well, 25mb per second is what NBN will provide for everyone nationwide. Now-

Journalist:
Does that matter whether you're wireless of fixed?

Fifield:
Well, it does vary. 25mb per second is what NBN say is the minimum. So if you're on the Sky Muster Satellite you'll get 25mb per second. If you're on Fibre to the Premise, then you can get 100mb plus. In terms of the Fibre to the Node network, you know, you're probably talking 50mb per second, but NBN's commitment is that 90% of the fixed line network will be able to get speeds up to 50mb per second. So, it does depend on the technology that you have, but 25mb per second is the minimum nationwide.

Journalist:
I'm speaking to the Federal Minister for Communication about the NBN on ABC Southern Queensland, you're listening to Belinda Sanders. The time is 13 minutes to 10. 25mb vs 100mb is a very big gap. Are there any regrets, or perhaps changes of direction when it comes to wireless vs Fibre to the Node vs direct, all the different terms?

Fifield:
Yes, the approach that we've taken is that what was important was to get the NBN rolled out as fast as possible to the whole nation. When we came into Government in 2013, the main complaint was: we don't have the NBN, we want it, get it to us sooner rather than later. And by taking this multi-technology approach, we're able to get the NBN as a project completed nationwide by 2020 which is 6-8 years sooner than would have been the case otherwise.

Journalist:
But there has been compromise as far as speed to achieve that?

Fifield:
Well, Fibre to the Node doesn't deliver speeds as fast as Fibre to the Premise. That's absolutely right. But, 25mbps, 50 mbps is all that most people need. And, in fact, what we're finding is that about 83% of people are opting for speeds of 25mbps or less. And that doesn't really vary whether you're talking Fibre to the Premise or Fibre to the Node. So, those speeds of 25mbps or below pretty much meet the needs that people have. But, NBN is always looking at upgrade paths and doing better. So, Fixed Wireless, NBN thought 50mbps was the best that they'd be able to do. They've now worked out a way that fixed wireless can get 100mbps. So from next year that will be a possibility for people on Fixed Wireless. In some of the metro areas, we're using some of the old HFC Pay TV cable. And again, NBN's already looking at ways of getting those speeds up. So, our objective was: get the NBN built. Get it complete. Get it done as quickly as possible. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And nothing's set in stone. There's always the capacity for further upgrade.

Journalist:
Does that potentially disadvantage, at least in the short term, those businesses, and you'd have to assume that a lot of them would be in rural areas and sometimes they're even probably not that far out of Toowoomba for example, they're on wireless 20kms out from Toowoomba is wireless and that minimum of 25mbps, is disadvantaging those businesses that just happen to be in wireless area, how do compensate or how do you fix that?

Fifield:
Well, if they're on fixed wireless you're talking 50mbps and from next year, we're going to 100mbps. So, the proposition that we were really faced with when we came into Government was: do we want to give people 25mbps or 50mbps per second in the near future, or do we want people to have to wait 6 or 8 years longer to get any sort of fast broadband. So I don't think businesses nationwide are disadvantaged. I think they're advantaged because they're all going to be getting fast broadband 6 to 8 years sooner than they would have under the approach of our predecessors. We have upgrade paths which NBN will pursue. And also the approach that we're taking is going to cost $30 billion less. So I think that's all pretty good news.

Journalist:
There was some criticism of the use of the copper network. Is there any sign of the copper network as far as you're aware being not capable or wearing down, or trouble in terms of your approach to the NBN at this stage.

Fifield:
The copper component that NBN's using, on the whole, is in pretty good nick. But, where it needs to be replaced then NBN will put fresh copper in place. But it's important to recognise that we're only talking about copper for the final journey from the node to someone's premises. You've got a fibre network everywhere up to that point.

Journalist:
And what happens in terms of when will it all move out of Toowoomba and the next focus and all that sort of thing in terms of stats?

Fifield:
We're rolling around the nation pretty much simultaneously. Toowoomba, the greater electorate of Groom, 93% complete. About 5,000 more premises in this area to be done which will happen late this year, early next year. The real focus now is actually going to be in the metropolitan areas and capital cities because we're getting close to completion in rural and regional Australia. So, this is a case where Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane are waiting to catch up to what the regions have. And look, that's entirely appropriate because historically, it's the regions who had worse connectivity. So it was appropriate that that was where the big focus was initially.

Journalist:
Are you happy with the complaint level that the NBN has received, you said earlier and it is fair, perfectly fair to say that you would expect some difficulty in rolling out a large. network like this one. Not everyone is going to be happy. You'd have to assume. You can't please everybody in those circumstances. But complaint levels that are coming in, in terms of NBN installation. Are they too high in terms from your perspective, or are they meeting what you would expect?

Fifield:
Look, I always want them to be lower. As I said, NBN says they get things right the first time on about nine out of ten occasions. So that means there's certainly scope for NBN to do better. The retail service providers as well, also need to do better, and they're determined to do that.

Journalist:
Is there a way, because I wanted to ask you that. That seems to be a big key when it comes to installation and problems with installation. Who is in charge? Because they do pass the, is there a way of sorting that out? Because the NBN and service provider from the stories that I've heard pass the buck a lot to each other.

Fifield:
NBN's customer is the retail service provider and the retail service provider's customer is the end user. So if someone has an issue, then they should go to their retail service provider. The retail service provider has the account with the individual. The retail service provider is the organisation that the end user pays their bill to. NBN doesn't have that sort of information. NBN provides the wholesale network. So the point of contact really should be the retail service provider.

Journalist:
That will hopefully help you out if you're in a dispute at the moment. Lock in contracts are potentially a pitfall. Should there be more communication in terms of that, Minister?

Fifield:
The ACCC is taking a very close interest in the retail service providers, what they advertise, and what they offer. So the ACCC has issued six principles that retail service providers should be mindful of. And obviously we want there to be good information to consumers. We want consumers to be well informed. Now, part of making sure the consumers are well informed is having transparency. And, one of the things that I've tasked the ACCC to do is monitor the speeds which people are receiving from retail service providers. Now, what that will entail is about 4,000 probes being embedded in people's kit in their homes so that the ACCC will be able to publically report on what people are experiencing in terms of speeds.

Journalist:
Will they know those probes are there? Becuase-

Fifield:
Absolutely. People have to volunteer to be probed in the nicest possible way. So the ACCC is calling for volunteers.

Journalist:
And when do you expect that will finish?

Fifield:
Hopefully, later this year that will be running so if anyone is interested in volunteering, they should contact the ACCC.

Journalist:
Thank you very much for coming in and enjoy your visit to Toowoomba.

Fifield:
Thanks very much Belinda.

[ends]

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